Metal Slug Anthology Review
Back in the day, it was all about the side-scrolling action offered in both the arcade and at home on our 8-bit and 16-bit systems. Granted, there wasn't a whole lot of diversity in the realm of 2D side-scrolling action, but several of those games still represent the absolute pinnacle of "twitch-gaming" glory. These old titles not only conjure up rosy nostalgic memories of the past, but they also remind us how punishing early video games really were. Lately, it's almost like developers and publishers have complemented the flashy new generation with a healthy assortment of collections and anthologies for old-school games. Some of the better ones include the recent Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2 and PSP, as well as the Activision and Atari collections for the PS2. But let's not forget the quintessential 2D shooter: Metal Slug. Believe it or not, it's back and better than ever...with only one minor drawback.
One of the first things we should mention about the visuals in this Anthology is that every scrap of detail is hand-drawn. This makes for a downright beautiful two-dimensional experience; about as pretty as 2D side-scrollers would ever get. SNK always went all out to make these games look as appealing as humanly possible, and that effort is once again displayed in all its classic glory. Even if you're firmly entrenched in the new generation, you should still be able to appreciate the graphics shown in the Metal Slug Anthology. It was a very different time in the industry's history, but this visual palette certainly stands the test of time. It's entirely unfair to compare it to anything from the PlayStation eras, but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve praise. We said there wasn't too much variety in 2D side-scrollers, but as far as graphics go, very few - if any - games in the genre look like Metal Slug. The only complaint we really have is that the visuals clearly didn't advance too much through seven arcade installments; the last is quite similar to the first in just about every way.
The sound also remains quite similar throughout the series, except for the sixth and final installment in the franchise. Up until that point, we have the traditional assortment of electronic and synthesized ditties to accompany our incessant ass kicking, and while it always fits the atmosphere, the music is never anything too impressive. The sound effects, on the other hand, resound with that old-fashioned quality we all know and love, and with almost unparalleled diversity. Machine guns, shotguns, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and even the comical cries of the characters all sound wonderful and add a great deal to the experience. The soundtrack from Metal Slug 6 is certainly more modern, though, as you'll hear original compositions that feature something other than synthesizer work. All in all, every Metal Slug in this collection sounds great, even though we still have the issue of balance and some sounds overriding others. That was a common problem in the old days, but we think it could've been cleaned up just a tad. Unless, of course, the goal was to recreate these games exactly the way they once were, with no updating. ...and this could indeed be the case.
At its core, Metal Slug was always the same. Parachute into the action, mow down a zillion faceless enemy soldiers, and free as many POWs as you possibly can. The more you rescue, the more weapon upgrades - and points - you'll receive, and this was always the key to success. SNK Playmore hasn't stripped anything away, but they also haven't added anything, either. The goal and purpose of each entry in the series was basically identical, and they didn't alter much throughout seven separate arcade titles. However, the sixth Metal Slug is clearly the most different and most advanced: you can choose the Easy or Hard setting (the Easy sets your default weapon to the machine gun instead of the pistol), the aforementioned sound was a definite upgrade, and each of the six characters actually had significant differences (some have more grenades, some have different default weapons). But true fans will probably want to sample every title included in this anthology.
If there's one thing that stands out about this anthology, and one thing that will keep you playing for hours, it's the near-perfect control and recreation. The directional pad works better than the analog, though, as the latter presents some definite issues. You'll immediately recall the extreme difficulty level we're not accusomted to with the newer games, and if you're not familiar with the world of Metal Slug, you might wish to opt for infinite continues. The control is great, but the challenge remains quite high, especially in the earlier installments. However, if you so desire, you can play the old-fashioned way and see just how far you get...your success will depend on if you have previous experience with these titles, though, so bear that in mind. This may be a 2D side-scrolling shooter, but it's not exactly Contra, you know?
No, it's a bit different than your standard, straightforward shooter. Getting hit once results in death, but you'll soon realize it's not quite as unforgiving as other old-school games with that same rule. You can jump and crawl, throw grenades, and even strike with a knife when up-close-and-personal. But in addition, you also have the now-classic Metal Slugs, which can take just about any form. The first Slugs appear to be mini-tanks you can jump into, but a Slug can appear as a helicopter, submarines, and even camels and donkeys. The latter two aren't even machines, as you can see (we told you this series has a sense of humor), and they're also not quite as protective. While you can roll around in your tank without suffering direct damage, if you're on the back of your high-powered donkey, you're susceptible to enemy fire. These are the kind of little things that always separated Metal Slug from the pack.
You'll encounter your share of giant bosses, of course, and they're all very cool, imaginative, and even funny at times. Almost regardless of which game you choose to play, you'll always have a blast, plain and simple. It'll bring you back to the days when you had serious trouble putting down the controller, if only because you wanted to get to the next mission. Then you'd start the mission just to "see," and before you knew it, you were convincing yourself you need to make it just one more level (just one more level, mom!). And in your nostalgic adventure, you'll notice only one thing that might annoy you: there are frequent and somewhat frustrating loading times throughout each Metal Slug, and there are more loading times in the menu screens. It can definitely interrupt the action on screen during gameplay, even though it only occurs during natural breaks. It's a modern drawback tossed into some old games, and it's not crippling, but it is noticeable.
This anthology also features some other sweet little features: you can save your progress, watch an exclusive Q&A with the developers (it's a little bizarre), search for well-hidden Easter Eggs, and visit the music and art galleries. Lastly, for the lazier gamer who hates the idea of constantly tapping the fire button, SNK included an auto-fire option. See? They've really got everyone covered with Metal Slug Anthology; everyone from the ages of 10 to 40. Up until now, the best collection of old games we've seen was the Sega Genesis Collection, but this here anthology takes the cake. Quite simply, it's a fantastic addition to any PS2 owner's library - be they old-school or new-school - and it's even more attractive with that budget price. Metal Slug Anthology, despite the loading, represents a nigh-on flawless recreation of these classic titles, right down to the slowdown we all remember. Heck, it's actually endearing in this case!
Some golden oldies should never die, and all of these Metal Slug titles fall into the category of "should-never-be-forgotten."
7/26/2007 Ben Dutka